Saturday, April 30, 2016

Learnings From George

Sante Fe offers an alternative perspective of aging. Our friend, George was a healthy 72 year-old when I met him in 2012. His dark long hair clustered around his face. He smiled regularly and was ready at any time for our hugs. His facial expression was animated and varied in emotion.

Paul knew George from the 70’s. They played together in the Ontario band, Perth County Conspiracy. They had a good chance to play music together while we visited and had lots of time to reminisce. George and I connected quickly and, through many conversations over the days we spent in Santa Fe, our connection went deep.

George is a master piano player. During our time he insisted on giving me several 20- minute piano lessons. It left me with great memories and lasting opportunity for growth.

“Put your fingers gently on the keys.” He instructed. “Then just let them dance. The empty space between your fingers and your wrist is what plays the notes. Let that beautiful space fill up with the music.”

George just wanted me to play. He models the playing of the black keys, the pentatonic scale. He demonstrates other options using the white keys. He urges me to just play. I do. By the end of each lesson, if I really allowed myself to let go and tune in to the flow of making music, I was able to create some nice sounds. I experienced a sense of accomplishment and a recognition of my musical self.

I’m not surprised. I know I can learn anything that I want to learn. Learning requires hope. When I feel successful at what I am attempting, I persevere. Once I tap in to my own skills, it is easy to continue to believe in my own creative expression. The knowledge that I can sit down at a piano and play music is exciting!!!

Dr. Rick Hanson, a Buddhist practitioner and neuroscientist speaks prolifically about “hardwiring our brains for happiness”. Through deliberate awareness and mindful meditation we are able to actually change the physical configuration of our brain connections to accommodate new learning.

Rick refers to the acronym H.E.A.L. as a means to learn through positive experiences that rewire and change brain synapses, helping to modify our attitudes and behaviours and create a happier existence. Learning requires, first, Having an experience. That might be facilitated by a conversation, reading an article, seeing a movie, competing in a race, or even simply listening to a lecture. Being aware of having the experience and welcoming the newness of it helps the learner find the joy.

Enjoying the learning experience helps to make it a positive one and inspires the learner to ‘stick to it’ longer. The more we practise new information, the more apt we will be to remember it.

The ‘A’ stands for Absorb. Integrating the new information into our being with multiple sensory stimulus, helps us to find relevancy and reminds us where the information can be accessed when needed.

During my Yoga practise, I make sure to intermittently spend moments in Sivasana so that the postures I have been practising will become integrated into my body. Some people call that ‘muscle memory’. It helps me transfer my practise into my daily life.  How can I become more flexible in my attitudes? What do I need to do to stretch my perspectives more? Where in my life do I require more openness and clarity? Where can I find simple peacefulness and relaxation, even in the midst of an active and rich life.

This brings us to the ‘L’ in H.E.A.L. which stands for Link. Applying the new learning in different ways helps connect it physically to information we already have in our brain and the new learning becomes personal.

George has passed away since I met him, and I remember him with great love and admiration. And whenever I am learning something new, or even getting better at something old, I try to remember to simply “put my fingers on the keys, listen to the spaces in between the notes, and just let them dance”.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Walking on the Sunny Side

My walk down to the ferry yesterday was glorious! The daisies are exploding all over the island. Daisies were my mother’s favourite flower and, every time I see clusters of them I feel her presence.

 When walking on the road, people usually walk towards oncoming traffic. I usually try to abide by this practice. Today, I decided to walk on the other side of the street. The sun was shining on the ‘other’ side and I wanted to feel the warmth of the sun. I thought about that some, and realized, that, when I’m out in the world, I am generally cautious, no matter where I am, and I often do choose the sunny side, even if it requires a little bit more attention and caution. Some would say I live dangerously. I think I just live the way I want, and make sure it fits for me and doesn’t ever hurt anybody else.

Being aware of danger and remaining open and curious is ideal. I never want to live in fear. My mother used to prevent me from walking barefoot on the lawns of her property in Florida. “ You have to be careful about red ants.”, she would say. “The armadillos will attack you if they see you walking.”  “You never know what you’ll get if you walk barefoot in the grass.” I would listen to my mother, put on a little smile, and then, once I got far enough away, I would gently slip off my shoes. My eyes gazing in front of me anticipate any ‘monsters’ who might be on the ground, or under my feet. But mostly I reveled in burrowing in the thick, warm grass feeling the blades between my toes and the soil molding around my feet as I walked. I would meander towards the river that ran through their golf course property. My eyes remained open in anticipation of alligators and worms and (yes) even armadillos with their very interesting and protective shells. But, alas…I never saw any of these things, no matter how hard I tried. And….I got to walk barefoot and carefree ‘cause that’s who I am.

On Gabriola we have a community Labyrinth and, with others, I share a meditative walk each week. Generally it’s 30 minutes of silence…walking, stretching, pausing, reflecting. Sometimes we process our experience together.

My weekly labyrinth walk places me on the sunny side. No matter which part of the winding, twisting, turning path I find myself, I am able to settle in to letting go of the constant focus on future plans and goals and my general tendency to make sense of the world. Our labyrinth has a beginning and an end, both in view regardless of where you are within. There are no tricks. No dead ends, no unusual passages. It is simple and clear and one step influences another. I don’t get lost. I don’t need to think. It’s a relaxing way of being in the Now by quieting my mind and, ultimately, opening my heart.

The ‘sunny side’ appears as my bare feet gently touch down with each step. Often, I gain a great sense of ‘grounding’ just by removing my shoes! The people with whom I share the space, the beauty of my natural surroundings, the sounds of the variety of birds and insects, the sensation of the sun and (sometimes) cool air on my skin remind me of the simple pleasures that are available for me in my life!

Most often, I experience a great sense of gratitude, contentment and appreciation. Some times I can gently work through issues. Most often I leave with clarity and a joyful feeling of bliss.

I suppose in life, we make choices about how we want to be. For me, I know it isn’t always easy. Thankfully I allow myself to confront my fears, deal with uncomfortable situations, and resolve conflict with friends, family and life in general. These are the experiences that provide opportunity for growth and my own increased awareness. And it keeps me always searching for the sunny side of the street.